New EU rules intended to simplify organic farming and processing have been approved by EU Council representatives.
The regulation, which covers agricultural products, food, seeds, plants and processed products, aims to harmonise rules on EU production, ensure third countries comply with non-EU organic production, reduce red tape for farmers and make it easier for new products to get organic certification.
In this way manufacturers will be able to “respond to the development of the sector and to consumers’ demands, providing additional opportunities for producers”.
A number of new products, such as salt, cork and essential oils, will be covered under the new rules. It also allows group certification, making it easier for small farmers to get certified.
A statement by the Commission said: “Many of the current rules are more than 20 years old, and need to be updated to reflect the major changes that have taken place in the EU organic sector over the last two decades. Organic is no longer a niche part of the EU agri-food sector as it was when the current rules were first drawn up.
“In fact it is now one of the most dynamic sectors of EU agriculture, with the amount of land used for organic farming growing at around 400,000 hectares a year.”
The European organic market is currently worth around €27 billion – a 125% increase on ten years ago.
According to the Commission, the old rules allowed an à la carte system of exceptions, sometimes at the level of a single producer. Some of these exceptions will still be permitted – for instance, the temporary replacement of an organic ingredient by a non-organic one in cases of limited stocks – but with a limited time frame. They will also be regularly assessed for relevance and will apply to all producers and all products.
The new rules will also apply to farmers outside the EU, replacing more than 60 standards that were considered equivalent and that applied to imported goods.
“[This] brings important improvements in relation to trade, the main one being that there will be now a levelplaying field between operators from the EU and from non-EU countries,” it said.
For consumers, the new regulation means that in buying organic, they are contributing to global goals on climate change, biodiversity and environmental protection, the Commission said.
2021 start date
Now that it has passed the Council, members of the European Parliament will vote on the draft regulation. If adopted, it will enter into force in January 2021.
“This will give enough time for producers, operators and trade partners to adapt to the new framework,” the Commission.
Commissioner for agriculture, Phil Hogan called the Council’s approval “another milestone for the organic sector”.
“This growth will be helped by smaller producers, who will now be allowed to join group certification schemes so as to benefit from lower certification costs. Moreover, organic farmers will now have access to a new market of organic seeds which will improve biodiversity, crop sustainability and will boost innovation.”
Operating under this principle of equivalence (rather than the principle of conformity) meant that authorities in some countries allowed the use of certain plant treatment products which are not used in the EU, for instance in cases, where they were used to treat diseases not present in Europe.
Some third countries, such as Canada, Japan, the United States, Tunisia and New Zealand, have recognised the EU rules as equivalent.
These existing arrangements or agreements in place will have to accommodate the new rules whenever relevant within a reasonable timeframe, said the Commission.